On December 10th a small group of PSC leaders were intentionally arrested outside a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting at Baruch College as the meeting continued uninterrupted. They demanded increased funding—including to fund a $7K per course minimum wage for adjunct faculty—in the Trustees’ budgetary request to the State. The staged arrests were the culmination of a semester of lobbying, including a campaign to pressure university presidents to in turn pressure Trustees. These activities drew significant time and energy from adjunct activists who picketed Wall Street, collected signatures, and spoke out at public Trustee meetings—despite the knowledge that the Trustees scarcely attend these meetings and are accountable to the Governor and nobody else.
This week, with significantly less fanfare and no comment so far by PSC leadership, the Trustees released the text of their budgetary requests through the 2020 Fiscal Year, to be ratified next week after another perfunctory hearing. The document contains not a single reference to adjuncts. CUNY gets nothing it wasn’t already getting, and tuition is going up yet again. The budget does not even provide funding for the course release for full-timers, which PSC leaders claim was won in the last contract. (It wasn’t.) In the end, all the petitioning and testifying and letter-writing and scripted protesting yielded the same predictable result: nothing.
Nonetheless, just yesterday members of the Graduate Center Chapter received a message from their chair wishing a “7K New Year” and unveiling yet another lobbying trip to Albany to accomplish it. But the Trustees’ budget request is testament to how little can be accomplished by speaking truth to power without wielding the power that comes from our ability to withhold our labor and shut the city down. It’s time to stop addressing the powerful with moral suasion, and focus on building some real power of our own. The sooner we face reality, that preparing for a strike is the only way forward, the better our chances will be. We cannot afford to be backed into this necessary militant action—we need to begin preparing now.
Campus by campus, adjunct activists are leading the way. Join us!
CUNY Struggle and many of our comrades from the campaign for 7K or Strike! are featured prominently in a documentary short about the campaign by filmmaker Martine Granby. Granby should be applauded for refusing the usual narrative of adjuncts as powerless and debased, and choosing instead to showcase the great power we can wield if we get organized and stop doing what we’re told. Check it out below, and be sure to share it around!
On Wednesday, December 5th, PSC chapters representing two CUNY campuses, City College and Lehman, passed resolutions supporting 7K or Strike! At City College, 45 PSC members voted unanimously to support a strike if CUNY doesn’t offer 7K at the bargaining table! The solidarity was palpable. Discussion focused on the need to fight for a fully-funded CUNY that benefits everyone. The fight for 7K is not an adjunct fight, it’s a fight against austerity across CUNY and beyond!
Meanwhile at Lehman College, another 7K or Strike resolution was voted up enthusiastically, while a de-fanged version was roundly rejected by membership. We are honored to run a first-hand account of how it went down, from a comrade who has campaigned hard for for 7K or Strike in the capacity of a full professor (something we are often told should preclude any interest in the adjuncts’ plight). Stuart’s account also provides a clear-eyed assessment of the obstacles facing this campaign, not all of which are external to our union. It’s a must-read for anyone seeking to promote this campaign at their campus, or to understand more broadly how the PSC functions in its present incarnation. Continue reading “City College and Lehman College Endorse 7K or Strike!”
Many PhD students at the Graduate Center are classified as “Graduate Assistant Bs” (GABs). After 3 years of teaching undergraduate courses at CUNY, GABs are compelled in their 5th year to work in the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program. These “WAC fellows” are responsible for developing writing curricula for full-time faculty and tutoring undergraduate students. Their training consists of a few unpaid yet mandatory seminars; even Chemistry and Math students are required to teach writing, without any formal training or certification, despite a preponderance of CUNY students in need of remedial instruction in basic composition from trained professionals. Instead of real support, they get us.
This year, CUNY announced a brutal reorganization of the WAC program, enshrining a workload double for the same money, while also prohibiting Graduate Assistants from working additional jobs at CUNY. For the vast majority of CUNY graduate students, fellowships do not cover living expenses in NYC, and so it’s common to adjunct at CUNY alongside fellowship work. For international students in particular, whose visas prohibit them from working outside the CUNY system, this announcement was a disaster.
In response to the WAC Attack, rank-and-file activists at the Graduate Center took immediate action. When the dust settled, CUNY administrations had backed down. This victory is further proof of the timeless adage that collectively organized, confrontational, direct action gets the goods. The notion that polite “persuasion” of management by union bureaucrats behind closed doors represents some sort of “strategy” is delusional. And when this approach gets implemented by our own chapter leadership, it directly threatens our capacity to survive. Our victory sheds light on a clear path forward. Moreover, that we had to fight in the first place illuminates mistakes that we must not allow to be made again. Here’s how it went down.Continue reading “Grad Center Rank-and-File Beats Back the WAC Attack!”
CUNY Struggle is an organization of rank-and-file academic workers in the City University of New York system. Part of our work is organizing within our union — the Professional Staff Congress-AFT Local 2334 — for the kinds of democratic reforms needed to mobilize broadly against austerity. In the last year, we have built a movement that pushed PSC leadership to demand a doubling of adjunct pay to $7000 (7K) per course in its present bargaining with CUNY. We now strive to back up this righteous demand with the weight of the collective power of CUNY workers, students, and the broader New York City working class. To date, we have helped seven campus PSC chapters endorse resolutions pledging to support a strike if the 7K demand is not met.
Our biggest obstacle in pushing for 7K has been the mistaken belief, shared by most of our union’s leadership, that meaningful gains can be won outside of a bargaining horizon that includes the possibility of a strike. This has placed us in a grassroots insurgency against our union’s failed strategy of lobbying politicians from a position of weakness. While striking is no silver bullet, and is not to be undertaken lightly, we find the power of every workplace campaign to emanate not from the persuasive rhetoric of its official representatives, but from the ability of its rank-and-file to withhold their labor.
Accordingly, we’re worried about the precedent the UAW is setting by forswearing a strike in advance. The UAW of all unions should be well aware of the disastrous historical outcome of no-strike pledges on organized labor in the United States. We support your campaign against this short-sighted and self-defeating measure, and hope that in joining forces we can advance a citywide movement of rank-and-file academic workers, in the spirit of the movement of educators reshaping the terrain of class struggle in the US today.
We stand with you, not as sympathetic observers, but as comrades in a struggle that is one in the same.
This afternoon, Brooklyn College became the seventh PSC chapter to vote YES on the “$7k or strike” resolution. The resolution passed easily, with only two abstentions. It was the largest chapter meeting of the semester, with attendance hovering around 80 people. With only a week of tabling and flyering, organizers were able to reach a large number of adjuncts who were eager to turn out and speak in favor of building a strike movement behind the $7k demand. Full-timers and undergraduate students at the meeting also voiced their support for a militant approach to contract negotiations. The meeting took place in an atmosphere of solidarity. People cheered and clapped after interventions in support of the resolution, and few expressed reservations. A faculty member in attendance even asked the crowd whether someone who opposes the resolution could explain why they do, because she couldn’t imagine what their arguments might be. But there was no one there who opposed the idea of a strike for $7k. It seems there is far less cynicism and apathy among the PSC rank and file than the leadership believes.
In an inspiring show of cross-title solidarity, three amendments were introduced by full-timers to strengthen the resolution and make it more actionable. A professor of political science added language that made explicit the resolve of the chapter to take on the difficult work of building a strike. A professor of computer science suggested adding a pledge clause according to which each person in attendance would promise to bring a colleague to the next meeting. And a professor of history amended the language in the resolution to reflect the fact that $7k per course is still only barely a living wage, a useful reminder of the moral obligation we have to fight for this demand.
The meeting was invigorating. With seven campuses on board, it is time to take concrete next steps toward building a strike movement. This is only the beginning.